Basil Flower Shortbread

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Our basil is in flower at the moment, and it inspired me to call my Grandma and ask for her Aunt Maise’s shortbread recipe – she’s been promising it to me for a while.

I’d read a recipe for herb flower shortbread in Cooking With Flowers by Miche Bacher (such a beautiful book), and thought I would combine that idea with the Scottish classic.

The basil flowers add a subtle point of difference to the otherwise familiar biscuits. If you prefer, the flowers can be left out altogether or exchanged for other herb flowers like rosemary, oregano or lavender, depending on what you have in the garden.

I had my good headphones on for this bake and I must admit to grooving around the kitchen a whoooole lot while preparing and washing up. It was a Genesis and Led Zeppelin heavy shuffle.

I exercised both days this weekend (including a 36km bike ride this morning!) and I think that’s why I feel super energetic tonight.

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You’ll need

  • 225 unsalted butter, softened and chopped
  • 1/2 cup caster sugar
  • 1/2 cup rice flour, sifted
  • 2 1/2 cups plain flour, sifted
  • small pinch sea salt
  • 1-2 tbsp basil flowers
  • extra caster sugar for topping, if desired

Method

1. Sift dry ingredients into a large bowl.

2. Add butter to bowl and rub into dry ingredients using the tips of your fingers. This should take around 10 minutes and leave you with a well combined ball of dough, a bit like pastry.

3. Wrap the dough in cling wrap and refrigerate until firm, around 45 minutes.

4. Meanwhile, heat oven to 180ºC and grease a large oven sheet.

5. Cut chilled dough into two equal portions and roll out into rectangular lengths around 10cm wide.

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6. Cut into pieces around 2-3cm wide and place on the prepared tray. Prick biscuits with a fork and bake for 20-25 minutes, or until light golden.

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7. Sprinkle biscuits with the extra sugar and allow to cool.

Grandma used to make her shortbread for my Aunty and Uncle’s cafe and loves to tell the story of a chef who tried it and declared it the best he’d ever tasted.

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I realise that these photos aren’t the best, and I do apologise, but I think Grandma’s story should convince you to give this shortbread a try next time you’re after something easy for afternoon tea or lunches.

Have a great week!

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Grandma’s Christmas Fruit Cake

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I realise that being so close to Christmas this recipe might be a bit late for most readers, at least until next year, but I’ve been so busy with all of my baking that this is the first opportunity I’ve had to write it.

My Grandma, who turns 90 next year, makes six Christmas fruit cakes every year, one for each of her children, and one for her brother. I was lucky to have a morning with her in her snazzy new kitchen a couple of weeks ago. I went to help her make two cakes, and came home with her tried and true recipe and some important tips.

This cake is great in that you can put it in the oven and then get stuck into whatever else you need to do that day- it goes in the oven for 5.5 – 6 hours at 120 and cooks nice and slowly, keeping it dense and juicy.

I had my first solo attempt on the weekend and my cake turned out well- though it cooked a bit more quickly- in 4.5 hours- as my oven dial is obviously a bit inaccurate on the lower end.

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You’ll need

  • 900g mixed fruit (with glace cherries)
  • 2 cups lightly packed brown sugar
  • 30g blanched slivered almonds
  • 220g unsalted butter
  • 1/2 cup milk
  • 3 eggs
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla essence
  • 1/2 tsp lemon essence
  • 1 tbsp medium or dry sherry
  • 2 tbsp decent quality brandy
  • 1/2 tsp ground nutmeg
  • 1/2 tsp ground ginger
  • 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp bicarb (baking) soda
  • 3 cups plain flour
  • 1 tbsp each of sherry & brandy, for topping

Method 

1. Combine mixed fruit, sherry, brandy and brown sugar in a large bowl and mix well. Cover and leave for 2 hours or overnight.

2. Pre-heat oven to 120ºC and line a deep,20cm wide cake tin with at least two layers. Grandma uses four- white card, brown card, brown paper & baking paper, for the bottom and sides. The expert assures me that this is well worth it “I haven’t had burnt bottom yet!”. Secure with pegs until needed.

3. Uncover soaked fruit and add spices, salt, bicarb soda, and almonds and mix well.

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4. Melt butter in a small saucepan over medium-low heat. Remove from heat once melted, add milk and stir to combine.

5. Add warm mixture to fruit and stir well until all combined and sugar has dissolved- you’ll notice the grainy feeling disappear as you stir.

6. Lightly whisk the eggs and essences, and add to the main bowl and mix well.

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7. Add sifted flour, one cup at a time, and stir very well to combine, making sure you get all of the flour that might be stuck on the bottom or sides.

8. Pour the mixture into your prepared cake tin and drop from 20-30cm height onto bench or hard floor to evenly distribute mixture and get rid of any air bubbles. Top with extra almonds.

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9. Place on the middle shelf in your very slow oven. Cook for 5.5-6 hours, checking if it’s cooked with a metal skewer inserted in the centre of the cake.

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10. Remove from oven and pour over an additional tablespoon of both brandy and sherry, particularly focusing on the edges of the cake- this will make sure it’s lovely and moist all over.

11. Top with baking paper and, still in tin, wrap in a clean dry tea towel. After about half an hour wrap the bundle a couple of layers of newspaper and set aside until cool.

12. Enjoy- and have a happy Christmas!!

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My finished cake- destined for Mum’s table.